In this entry I wanted to get to Isaac Luria and his description of The Sparks. But I didn’t. I wanted to give a short background, but there is no shortcut to understanding. And there is no end to study.
“Mishnah 16 He (R. Tarfon) also used to say, It is not thy obligation to complete the task, nevertheless though art not at liberty to desist therefrom; if thou hast studied much in the Law much reward shall be given thee, for faithful is thy Employer who shall requite the the reward of thy labour; and know that the bestowal of reward upon the righteous will be in the time to come.” (Avoth, Mishnayoth Nezikin; Phillip Blackman, Judaica Press, 1963)
So in the end notes/commentary of this edition of Nezikin it says that one should not be disheartened by the amount of work there is, because in the first line the amount of work is endless. But, to tell the truth, I am disheartened. (And again I refer to Rabbi Nachman of Breslev who says when he falls down he picks himself up and starts again and I am heartened again.) Even for the small amount that I read, I am only getting my toes wet in an ocean of material. An ocean that is endlessly deep and in which I might drown, if I were to extend the metaphor. I am not intellectually equipped enough to deal with the massive amount of material. Most people, I think, find their little corner, their tiny boat on this ocean, in Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah (Rambam), Nachmanides (Ramban), or Tanya (R. Zalman) and they take bits and pieces from here or there to justify this or that and they think they understand. But I can only speak for myself. This is what I am trying to do. I can’t speak for “them” whoever “they” may be but I do pray there is an “us”.
I am at sea, drowning in a sea of information, and every so often I try to scramble onto Maimonides’ boat or Rabbi Zalman’s boat or Rabbi Nachman’s boat in an attempt to understand what it means and how it all applies to me. And then I jump back in the ocean and flounder about. But that’s just me, that’s just ego. I am dust. (The Amidah) I am just a droplet in an endless sea. I will never understand the sea. But I am part of the ocean.
In the above image the metaphor for me is pretty clear. The Jewish people crossed the Red Sea with G-d’s help. They passed from Egypt (the mundane physical world) into Israel (a new spiritual understanding defined by the Torah). The Egyptians tried to follow and they were drowned in the sea. As a Gentile who studies Torah have I doomed myself, or have I, by asking these questions, taken on the yoke of The Law?
These definitions are all metaphors. This has been acknowledged. G-d is undefinable and all the metaphysical models we create that describe our relationship with G-d are only models. But models for what? This is the question.
The Kabbalah is old, very old, older than Isaac Luriah and older than the Zohar. It is from ancient oral tradition and the oral tradition has survived because it is based on Written Scripture. I am only learning as we are all learning. Even the people who wrote the texts themselves are learning. That seems to be the human condition.
A much better description than I could give of the basic texts is here. “Heikalot”, “Sefer Yetzirah”, “Bahir”, “Sefer Raziel HaMalakh”, “Zohar” and “Pardes Rimonim”… That is, I understand, a good selection, and the Bible and the Talmud which are the basis for these and so hold much deeper meaning, were not only mentioned. But they are the first and only and must be mentioned. Always a deeper richer oral tradition behind it is indicated. But this is a start.
(I don’t know where all these charts go or how they lead into Kabbalah (The Recieved). I don’t even know if Kabbalah leads to Kabbalah. I suppose for some it doesn’t.)
In my humble readings I would mention “Ethics of the Fathers”(Sefer Nezikin, Talmud), and “Guide for the Perplexed” (Maimonides, more a text on how logic and metaphysics relate) “Tanya” (Rabbi Zalman), and “Likutei Moharan” (Rabbi Nachman). Ethics of the Fathers is a guide to proper behavior. “Guide for the Perplexed” is a letter from Maimonides to a colleague/student who was having a crisis of faith. And all this is only a start. And it all indicates a strict regimen of behaviour is needed to even begin to understand. You are what you do. (Quote from the movie Total Recall)
Perhaps the metaphor The Kabbalah could be seen as a model for the human mind. The Kabbalah could be a metaphor for how we are put together psychologically and emotionally. These metaphysics could be a guide to creating a healthy personality and relating to other people.
(And so perhaps this should be read as a metaphor for the human being with the head at the crown and with loving kindness being distributed by the right hand.)
Stay tuned for “We are Divine – Part 4“ where I talk about The Sparks, Pieces of The Divine which exist in everything. But I am just splashing about in an Infinite Sea (and I am part of the sea itself as we all are) and I have to read most of the above texts myself.